Health and Healthcare Systems

5 crises that could worsen under COVID-19

People maintain social distance as they wait for food distributed by the volunteers during the thirty-six days of the lockdown imposed by the government amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at a slum in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar - RC2MDG99UFST

COVID-19 leaves some of the world’s most vulnerable communities facing 'a crisis within a crisis', the UN has warned. Image: REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 pandemic may increase the number of people battling acute hunger, the United Nations says.
  • Climate change policies are coming second as officials focus on fighting the virus.
  • Income losses for informal economy workers could be “massive”, according to the International Labour Organization.
  • The pandemic could result in 7 million unintended pregnancies, the UN warns.
  • Many mass vaccination campaigns are being temporarily suspended.

The impact of the coronavirus crisis might be extending further than you think.

It’s no longer just the human and economic costs of the pandemic sparking the concern of scientists and humanitarians – other crises are at risk of being neglected by policy-makers or unwittingly exacerbated by the outbreak.

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Here are five areas in which COVID-19 could have a significant effect.

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1. Hunger

COVID-19 leaves some of the world’s most vulnerable communities facing “a crisis within a crisis”, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Around the world, the economic downturn and rising unemployment will reduce people’s purchasing power, exacerbating the global hunger problem.

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The 55 countries that are home to acutely food-insecure people in need of urgent humanitarian food and nutrition assistance “may face an excruciating trade-off between saving lives or livelihoods or, in a worst-case scenario, saving people from the coronavirus to have them die from hunger,” according to the Global Report on Food Crises 2020.

“The number of people battling acute hunger and suffering from malnutrition is on the rise yet again, says António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. “And the upheaval that has been set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic may push even more families and communities into deeper distress.”

2. Climate

The climate was supposed to be top of the political and business agendas in 2020. Saving the planet was one of the key themes of the World Economic Forum’s 2020 meeting in Davos, where environmental activist Greta Thunberg addressed delegates.

Since then the climate emergency has taken a back seat as policy-makers focus on containing the pandemic. But the problem isn’t going away – 2019 was the second-hottest year on record.

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While some argue the reduction in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions due to lockdowns serves as an illustration of what can be achieved, others say concrete plans to take action are being shelved. In New York, carbon monoxide levels shrank to half their usual March levels and in China, the initial lockdown saw pollution levels fall 25%.

“The coronavirus has shown us the scale of the response needed to fight the climate crisis,” says Emily Kirsch, founder and managing partner, Powerhouse Ventures, in a Forum article about the issue.

3. Unemployment

The global economy will contract 3% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund, a deeper downturn than that seen in the 2008–09 financial crisis. That’s likely to push unemployment up across the board, with the Fund predicting the unemployment rate will rise to 10.4% this year, from 3.7% in 2019, and to 9.2% from 6.6% in advanced European countries.

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The lockdown will have an impact on jobs across the world. Image: International Labour Organization

But it’s not just those in formal employment that give rise to concern. More than 2 billion people worldwide working in the informal economy are among the most vulnerable, according to the International Labour Organization.

“They often have poor access to health-care services and have no income replacement in case of sickness or lockdown,” the ILO says in a report. “Many of them have no possibility to work remotely from home. Staying home means losing their jobs, and without wages, they cannot eat.”

jobs market employment labour work workers employees staff Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
Informal economy workers face “massive” income loss. Image: International Labour Organization

Income losses for informal economy workers will probably be “massive”, the ILO says, with its estimates showing their earnings declined by 60% globally in the first month of the crisis.

4. Vaccination programmes

Measles and polio vaccine programmes are being postponed amid fears that the contact needed to deliver them could spread coronavirus.

At the end of March, the World Health Organization released guidance to help countries sustain immunization services but recommended mass vaccination campaigns be temporarily suspended, underscoring how tricky it is to balance ensuring the safety of health workers and protecting people against preventable diseases.

Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) forecast carrying on with routine immunisation in Africa would prevent between 29 to 347 future child deaths for each excess COVID-19 death due to an infection acquired during a vaccination visit.

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“Without vaccination these deaths could result from a range of diseases including measles, yellow fever, pertussis, meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhoea,” LSHTM says.

The research suggests the health benefits of deaths prevented by sustaining routine childhood immunisation in Africa outweigh the excess risk of COVID-19 deaths associated with vaccination clinic visits, according to Kaja Abbas, assistant professor in disease modelling at LSHTM.

5. Unintended pregnancies

The UN warns that a lack of access to family planning, coupled with lockdowns and major disruptions to health services, could result in 7 million unintended pregnancies in the coming months. Facilities are closing, women are skipping medical appointments for fear of catching the virus and it’s becoming more difficult to get contraceptives due to disrupted supply chains.

Should health services remain disrupted and lockdowns continue for six months, some 47 million in these countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives, the analysis by the UN Population Fund, UNFPA, and its partners, shows.

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It’s not just unintended pregnancies highlighted in the report – it predicts there could also be a rise in gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and child marriages, as the lockdown holds back preventative programmes.

“This new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” says Dr Natalia Kanem, executive director of UNFPA. “The pandemic is deepening inequalities.”

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Health and Healthcare SystemsClimate ActionIndustries in Depth
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